Bahunvada: Myth or reality?

Bahunvada: Myth or reality?

ARCHIVE: The Kathmandu essayist on the history of ethnic hierarchy in modern Nepal (1992).

Kamal Prakash Malla, the Nepali linguist, historian and intellectual polymath, passed away on 17 November 2018. A prolific essayist who wrote in English and Nepal Bhasha, he was best known for his critical writings that punctured the nationalist orthodoxy during Nepal's partyless autocratic decades. Malla's work is remarkable for its breadth – from medieval epigraphy to sociology of the Kathmandu intelligentsia – its grounding in scholarship and for its "wicked willingness to splatter holy cows," as our Founding Editor Kanak Mani Dixit put it. His writings are collected in The Road to Nowhere and From Literature to Culture.

In the following piece written for Himal's special issue in May-June 1992 on ethnicity in Nepal, Malla makes his contribution to the debate on the impact of bahunvada (or Brahminism) in Nepali life, warning against the "overconfidence in democracy as the Ultimate solution" to the problems of socially and economically disadvantaged communities of Nepal.


After 25 years of persevering belligerence, Prithvi Narayan Shah conquered the three cities of the Kathmandu Valley in 1769, One year later, on 23 March, he shifted his capital to newly occupied Kathmandu. With his court came his kinsmen, retinue, priests and soldiers — the new aristocracy of the hill region — to settle permanently in Kathmandu. They symbolised what Nepal's leading economic historian Mahesh C Regmi calls "a shift of political and economic power". Among them were the thar-ghar, the chosen and select families of hill brahmins such as Aryal, Khanal, Pandey and Panta, who were rewarded with the best lands and houses in the Valley as their jagirs in return for their services to the Gorkhali court in war and peace. Thus begins the success story of the parbate Bahuns, the brahmins from the hills.

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